Men’s health in the workplace: Why 'How are you?' isn't going to cut itby
Men’s health needs to start in the workplace. The problem isn’t about men’s lack of interest, it’s about them having access to the right health support, at the right time, expressed in the right way.
According to the Men’s Health Forum, men spend far more of their lives in the workplace than women, and are twice as likely to work full time.
Is it a coincidence then, that men develop many serious illnesses earlier than women? For example, ten to fifteen years earlier in the case of heart disease.
An astonishing one in five male colleagues will die before they’re old enough to retire.
The good news is that change is coming. Recent research by Peppy showed that over two-thirds of employers offer support in the workplace specifically for men, and a further fifth will offer this support within the next year.
Time to face facts
Studies show that 67% of men are overweight or obese and middle-aged men are twice as likely to have diabetes than women.
Men are also more likely to smoke, eat an unhealthy diet, and drink to dangerous levels, as well as being twice as likely to have liver disease.
Society’s expectations of gender roles are slowly changing, but deeply embedded beliefs that men should prioritise their work over their health are harder to shake.
Just because today’s breadwinner may not be the man of the house, doesn’t mean male colleagues no longer feel the pressure of taking time off to be ill. These outdated attitudes towards masculinity are part of the reason why men visit the GP and pharmacy considerably less than women.
67% of men are overweight or obese and middle-aged men are twice as likely to have diabetes than women.
Men’s health-improvement initiatives in the workplace are not only effective at engaging men, but are also welcomed and valued by them, with studies showing that men respond well to health support designed and delivered specifically for men.
Rather than just asking staff ‘how are you?’, employers should be looking to make a real difference by following these simple steps.
Men’s physical health… the health MOT
Getting male staff to engage with health checks and programmes may well work better when companies use the language of an MOT.
Messaging that reminds them that they get everything checked – in the way they would before taking their car out on the road – will help normalise the idea of health checks.
Encouraging men to think about health checks as MOTs for the body can help to engage them and normalise the situation.
Better still, bring the health checks to them by offering drop-in appointments in the office, like the in-office blood pressure checks carried out by the Stroke Association.
Studies have shown how men can respond to competition in the workplace. Starting a step challenge or team run club on Strava are two examples of how to encourage healthy habits with a healthy dose of competition.
Indeed, digital health apps designed to support male colleagues are tapping into this competitive streak, offering challenges ranging from food prep to push-ups.
A combination of tracking features and one-to-one, expert guidance can help employees stay engaged and accountable.
Men’s mental health… change the language
In England, around one in eight men has a common mental health problem such as depression or anxiety. But the problem – when it comes to tackling it – is that the term ‘mental health’ is a turn-off.
In England, around one in eight men has a common mental health problem.
When men talk about mental health, they tend to express it in terms of anxiety, stress, anger, and overload. Using terms such as ‘stress’ and ‘burnout’ rather than ‘mental health’ can be more beneficial, as it is relatable.
An environment where men can open up about their feelings will help normalise conversations around mental wellbeing.
Charities such as Movember and CALM make it easy for workplaces to raise awareness of male mental health issues, and create a culture of openness with conversation-starting resources and event ideas that approach the topic in a lighthearted, engaging way.
Keep it confidential
Confidential, private conversations with an expert makes tackling mental health issues infinitely more doable for male staff members.
The disinhibition effect of being able to send a discreet chat message – like a WhatsApp – makes these conversations so much easier than sitting face-to-face with somebody and saying, ‘actually, I don't feel great’.
Men’s behavioural health… dangerous drinking
The general stress of working long hours, coupled with bad lifestyle habits brought about by the Covid pandemic, have led to excess alcohol consumption, causing a 21% increase in alcoholic liver deaths during the first year of the pandemic.
How can HR teams support colleagues struggling with substance abuse and addiction?
Bad lifestyle habits brought about by Covid led to a 21% increase in alcoholic liver deaths during the first year of the pandemic.
The first step is to show them there is a way out. First-person stories of addiction recovery or high-functioning alcoholism are a way of reaching male staff who may be reluctant to attend workshops.
Expectations from society mean that men can be more likely to show their emotions through an outward show of aggression – often mistaken for anger.
It is key for employers to help their male employees manage stress by giving them access to talking therapies and sleep support.
To create a workplace culture where it’s ok not to be ok, those in a position of authority must lead by example.
Leaders must create a workplace culture where it’s ok to not be ok.
Managers and business leaders need to show their team that it’s ok to have an off day and that anger and aggression aren’t the best ways to let off steam – openness will benefit the whole workforce.
Offering staff flexibility over their hours, or allowing a four-day week, enables them to escape the ‘always-on’ nature of modern work and to recharge. It also gives them more time to attend health checks and access health and wellbeing programmes.
The right support at the right time
The problem with men’s health is not a result of their lack of interest; it's about them having access to the right health support, at the right time, expressed in the right way.
Organisations need to take action and move away from a one-size-fits-all approach, and hopefully save a few more lives – men’s health starts in the workplace.